Auto Service World
News   May 30, 2003   by Auto Service World

AIA Convention: No Agreement On Future Path

WD Panel Airs Conflicting Views

A panel of warehouse distribution executives failed to reach agreement on whether the aftermarket is facing a crisis, or just an evolution; on whether serious action must be taken to address issues, or whether everything will work out on its own.
Most of the conflicting views surrounded the shortage of new technicians entering the trade, as well as the financial condition of many service providers. What they had to say about that subject at the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s Annual Convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I., is just a sampling of the total discussion–which was, at times, heated.
Bob Battis of the NAPA Atlantic division, standing in for NAPA Canada president Larry Samuelson, said that there simply needs to be more focus on training to improve the lot of the service provider. “We have to really encourage jobbers to sell the merits of training programs,” he said.
“In my mind it is going to be very difficult for independent service providers to get back their market share,” countered Michel Maheux, executive vice-president, Uni-Select Inc. “We have to look at who controls the bays. Specialists have been gaining market share and they have, over time, become generalists.”
“To a large part this is an invisible market,” added George Barker, president of Bestbuy Distributors Limited. “Competitive pressures will ultimately force the poorly run [service providers] out of business. If we’re not attracting people into tech training and apprenticeship training, there is going to be a huge impact on where people can get their cars serviced and how well they’re going to get repaired.
“The AIA figures have noted that apprenticeships have dropped 10% in the last decade. This does not bode well for our industry, when we need 10,000 new people just to replace those who are leaving the industry. If demand continues to outstrip supply, we are going to face difficulties.”
Probably the most controversial comments of the day were from Robert Blair, president of Carquest Canada. While the other executives voiced concern over the future of the independent service provider, even if they disagreed on the severity of the problem, Blair voiced a different view.
“I think that the future of the service provider is better than it ever has been,” he said. “The laws of economics will take hold. The fact is that there is a shortage in all the trades. The governments have begun to realize that there are career option that need to be addressed.” Increased attention by government, he says, will result in an increase in apprentices entering the market.
Blair also said that some competition does not concern him. “I’m not worried one bit about the specialists,” he added, continuing that specialty chains are suffering severe financial issues of their own.

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